> Arturo Toscanini - Broadcast Legacy [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Arturo Toscanini. Broadcast legacy
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Symphony No 3
Giuseppe MARTUCCI (1856-1909)

Peter I TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Romeo and Juliet – Overture fantasie
J S BACH (1685-1750)

Orchestral Suite No 3 – Air
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No 101 The Clock
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
Recorded 15 October 1938 (Vaughan Williams, Brahms, Martucci, Tchaikovsky) and 4 April 1942 War Bond Concert (Bach, Haydn)
GUILD 2211/12 [112’50]

More live Toscanini from Guild. The bulk of this double set derives from one of the weekly concerts of the NBC Symphony Orchestra and given on 15 October 1938. There are also two pieces from a War Bond concert of 1942, the Bach and Haydn. Toscanini had worked with the NBC for less than a year when he was recorded – all the NBC broadcast concerts were recorded – in repertoire both congenial and unfamiliar and one of the most enticing prospects is to hear Toscanini conducting the Tallis Fantasia. It’s a performance of strong profile from its firm opening pizzicati onwards, with surging and expressive violins but not over opulent. Sometimes the syntax isn’t as seamless as it should be and some of the entry points are quite vigorously attacked – a distinct lack of piety pervades the performance and that’s no bad thing once in a while. What is less convincing is the theatricality of the pause at 9’26 – and the exaggerated and all-too-rehearsed dynamics at the close. There is some flutter at 11’00 onwards and some hum but it’s a minor problem and never obscures the interest of a performance which, though often impressive, fails to ignite from within. His way with Brahms is charted territory. Opening with elegant fluency and powerful momentum the andante receives a performance of freshness and dramatic unity, free flowing and cohesive and far superior to his 1952 recording. The string playing is especially attractive in the third movement though perhaps I am alone in finding the practised clip of Toscanini here rather too predictable. Crisp trumpets animate the finale at once vigorous and animated.

The two Martucci sweetmeats were orchestrated from piano pieces. Notturno is a succulent pastoral and Novelletta is wittily pointed by Toscanini, giving sly rein to the dotted horn figure. Romeo and Juliet opens with an atmospheric paragraph of real anticipatory drama – much more so than I was expecting. Sleeve note writer William Youngren notes that Toscanini’s performance is animated by "relative continuity of tempo" which may be true but ignores the rather incendiary aspects of this performance which render it problematic. The Battle music is violently fractious and it is, I think, very much a matter of taste as to whether the scale of the piece is properly maintained. The conclusion, with its dramatic drum roll is precipitate, rushed and the coda generally splashy and unconvincing, whatever its dramatically tragic implications. The 1942 Concert has an attractive Bach Air and a less attractive Haydn Symphony. It’s all a little big and blatant, lacking in the flecks of discernment and lightening that animate better performances. Toscanini was generally a fine Haydn conductor but this is not one of his most rewarding recordings.

Jonathan Woolf

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